1,500 Foreigners to Stay, 800 Kids to Go

Israel has agreed to grant permanent residency to nearly two-thirds of the children of foreign workers who requested it, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said yesterday at a press conference marking the end of a one-time citizenship campaign.

As a result of the campaign, more than 1,500 people will receive legal standing in Israel. The children of foreign workers who met set criteria, including those who have lived here for six consecutive years and speak Hebrew, became permanent residents and their parents became temporary residents. If the children serve in the Israel Defense Forces, they are entitled to become citizens and their parents can become permanent residents.

"It's inconceivable for us to deport children who don't have another culture, who don't have another language," Bar-On said. "They are participating in the Zionist vision and want to join the army."

The citizenship campaign eased restrictions on the estimated 1,500 children of foreign workers living in Israel, half of whom are at least six years old. Since many of the children grew up here, there has been public opposition to deporting them to countries they may never even have visited.

Bar-On loosened the requirements of the previous government, which decided to allow the children of foreign workers to remain here if they were born in Israel and were at least 10 years old. Those who received permanent residency under the Bar-On campaign did not have to be born in Israel, but had to be turning 6 by September of this year, attend at least first grade in Israel, and arrive in Israel legally when they were younger than 14. They were also not allowed to have a criminal record.

"We have shown the maximum openness," Bar-On said yesterday. "I'm certainly proud of that."

Israel has refrained from deporting families with children while the citizenship campaign was under way. Now that it is over, the government is expected to call on families who are here illegally to leave the country, using the police to pressure them to do so.

There are 700 children of foreign workers under the age of six living here, while a request for permanent residency by 166 children was denied because the Interior Ministry determined they did not meet the criteria.

The Hotline for Migrant Workers said that while it welcomed the ease in restrictions, deporting the children of foreign workers is intolerable.